Resource

Remember the Ladies

Abigail Adams asks her husband, John Adams, to consider improving women’s standing while he is drafting the Declaration of Independence.

Abigail Adams

Raphaelle Peale (artist), Abigail Adams, 1804. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

John Adams

Asher B. Durand (artist), John Adams, 1835. New-York Historical Society, Gift of the New-York Gallery of the Fine Arts.

Abigail Adams to John Adams

“Abigail Adams to John Adams,” March 31, 1776. Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Document Text

Summary

I long to hear that you have declared an independency — and by the way in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would remember the ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice, or representation.
I can’t wait until you declare independence from England. I guess you’ll need to write a constitution for the new country. Please write better laws for women. Don’t give men unlimited power over their wives. Men can be bullies, and women need to be able to protect themselves. If you don’t write better laws for women, we’ll have our own revolution. We won’t submit to a government that does not let us have a say.
That your sex are naturally tyrannical is a truth so thoroughly established as to admit of no dispute, but such of you as wish to be happy willingly give up the harsh title of master for the more tender and endearing one of friend. Why then, not put it out of the power of the vicious and the Lawless to use us with cruelty and indignity with impunity. Men of sense in all ages abhor those customs which treat us only as the vassals of your sex. Regard us then as beings placed by providence under your protection and in imitation of the Supreme Being make use of that power only for our happiness.
Everyone knows men are bullies, and that it is only good men who choose to treat their wives and daughters fairly. Why would you write laws that give men the power to treat women badly without consequences? Smart men hate that women are treated inferior to men. Instead, think of us as people that God wants you to protect, and use your power to give us better lives.

“Abigail Adams to John Adams,” March 31, 1776. Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

John Adams to Abigail Adams

“John Adams to Abigail Adams,” April 14, 1776. Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Document Text

Summary

As to your extraordinary Code of Laws, I cannot but laugh. We have been told that our struggle has loosened the bands of Government everywhere. That children and apprentices were disobedient — that schools and colleges were grown turbulent — that Indians slighted their guardians and negroes grew insolent to their masters. Your idea to make the laws fairer to women made me laugh. We’re heard that the revolution has inspired many people to rise up against unfairness. Children don’t listen to their parents. Apprentices don’t obey their masters. Students at schools and colleges are wild. Indigenous people are ignoring white governors, and enslaved people are rebelling against their enslavers.
But your letter was the first intimation that another tribe more numerous and powerful than all the rest were grown discontented. — This is rather too coarse a compliment, but you are so saucy, I won’t blot it out. But your letter is the first time I heard that women are planning to rebel too. I’m being very rude, but your letter was so saucy I won’t cross it out.
Depend upon it, we know better than to repeal our masculine systems. Although they are in full force, you know they are little more than theory. We dare not exert our power in its full latitude. We are obliged to go fair, and softly, and in practice you know we are the subjects. We have only the name of masters, and rather than give up this, which would completely subject us to the despotism of the petticoat, I hope General Washington, and all our brave heroes would fight. I am sure every good politician would plot, as long as he would against despotism, empire, monarchy, aristocracy, oligarchy, or ochlocracy. — a fine story indeed. I begin to think the ministry as deep as they are wicked. After stirring up Tories, Landjobbers, Trimmers, Bigots, Canadians, Indians, Negroes, Hanoverians, Hessians, Russians, Irish Roman Catholics, Scotch Renegades, at last they have stimulated the ladies to demand new privileges and threaten to rebel. We know better than to give women more power. You know men aren’t really in charge, even if the law says so. We have to follow what women say already. If women try to fight for more equality, I hope George Washington and the army would fight back. Every politician would too. I wonder if this is part of a British plot. Now that they’ve turned every other group against us, they are getting women to rebel too.

“John Adams to Abigail Adams,” April 14, 1776. Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society.